Montgomery County moves forward with justice center, moving adult probation

NORRISTOWN >> Montgomery County is moving forward on the decade-long county campus renovation and construction plan, with a few new projects added in.

Representatives from Athenian Razak, the firm contracted by the county to engineer the project, presented a time line for the major aspects of the project to the commissioners Thursday. The security upgrade of One Montgomery Plaza, the county office building, will be the first phase completed about halfway though 2017, followed by the repair of exterior of the building, estimated to finish about a year later.

The construction of the new justice center, renovation of the courthouse and expansion of Hancock Square are three projects that are intertwined. Those are estimated to finish construction in 2020.

Commissioner Joe Gale asked the firm if they were still working under a $273 million budget.

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“Those are the goals that we set out in 2015 dollars,” said Christopher Strom, director of project development for Athenian Razak. “We set a range of $250,000 to $273,000, recognizing that a big part of the process was going to be the county making decisions about how much they want to invest, given the tradeoffs.”

Montgomery County solicitor Raymond McGarry said that the county has thoroughly vetted the contract with Athenian Razak to prevent change orders and other amendments late in the project from pushing the construction far above the projected costs. The county spent $22,000 to redraft the contract, he said.

“When we talked to other municipalities, other counties, about the problems they’ve run into, one of the biggest issues they run into is change orders and scope changes of work down the road,” McGarry said. “So the most important piece of advice that we got from all of them was to make sure your contracts are as clean and as tight as possible, so you can avoid that.”

The firm also received an amendment to its contract Thursday, approved with a 2-1 vote by county commissioners. Gale voted against the amendment, which added $86,690 to the firm’s pay in exchange for its help moving the adult probation office.

“I’m trying to be fiscally responsible and watch the tax dollars of Montgomery County and I just find it, six months in, we’re well over a million dollars, it keeps going up and up,” Gale said. “This project as a whole is a huge burden to the debt service and everything else in the county so we have to rein in spending when we can.”

The office will be moved to a building at Cherry and Penn streets in Norristown from its current location in King of Prussia until the justice center construction is complete. Then the probation office would be located in the justice center.

County Chief Operating Officer Lauren Lambrugo said moving the office is projected to save the county $110,000 to $117,000 per year.